“Given all these testimonies, Christ's Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something entirely outside the physical order, and it is unreasonable not to acknowledge it as an historical fact.”
This is a brief defense of Catholic belief in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, including a definition of the meaning of resurrection, basic reasons justifying belief in it, objections or possible alternative explanations which are opposed, and brief specific rebuttals of these.
When Christians profess belief in Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, they refer to the historical fact that Jesus was raised, soul and body, from the dead. He was not resuscitated. He was raised by an action of the Blessed Trinity and given a glorified body that was seen and physically touched by witnesses.
Belief in the Resurrection cannot be proved empirically through scientific evidence. Like so many things in life that are believed (ie. that Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford Theatre by John Wilkes Booth), the belief in the Resurrection is based, first and foremost, on eyewitness accounts. St. Paul wrote,
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five-hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me (1 Cor 15:3-8).
Here, Paul did not even mention the women who were the first to see the risen Christ on Easter Sunday morning at the tomb, but Paul made his point that, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins,” to the point of lying before God if it is not true (1 Cor 15:14-15, 17).
The basic evidence given for belief in the Resurrection rests on these witnesses, but includes such facts as the empty tomb and the lack of producing Jesus’ dead body, which are central to the argument because no serious person questions these facts, regardless of whether they believe in the Resurrection or not. On the other hand, objections to belief in the Resurrection do exist. Some believe He did not die on the cross at all. Some recognize that He did die, but say that the so-called witnesses were just lying. Others say the witnesses were not lying, but had merely hallucinated. Still others claim what His followers saw was a ghost or perhaps had some sort of experience of Him in their hearts. Finally, some refer to the biblical objection given by the Jews that the followers of Jesus stole the body from the tomb and hid it, claiming resurrection.
To those who claim He did not die on the cross, one must respond that the blood and water which flowed from his side were evidence that His heart had failed and began to accumulate fluid around it. In addition, the brutal means with which He was treated on Good Friday could not possibly leave a survivor in the kind of shape necessary to move a huge stone, fight off armed guards, and then walk to safety. Not only this, but there is no mention of the first witnesses needing to care for Him in any way. The position that He did not die on the cross is simply untenable.
To the claim that the so-called witnesses to the Resurrection were lying about it, one must respond by asking, “What did they have to gain by such a lie?” The followers of Jesus were afraid of meeting the same fate as Him, there was no money in it and no fame to be had… only persecution and death. The fact that so many of them were, in fact, martyred, proves that this claim cannot stand. After all, not one of the witnesses were willing to change their story in the face of persecution and furthermore, it is more difficult to believe that so many people would stick together to die for such a lie that provided no benefit to them or their families.
To the charge that the witnesses had indeed seen something, but that it was only a hallucination or a ghost, one must respond that while one person can hallucinate, no two people share the same exact hallucination, let alone five-hundred people at once, as Paul mentioned. In addition, a ghost does not eat (the risen Jesus ate fish) and neither a ghost nor a hallucination can be touched, as the apostle Thomas did to Him and His wounds. These last two arguments can also be used against the charge that believers had only experienced the risen Jesus in their hearts.
To the objection based on the supposed stealing of Jesus body from the tomb, one must only ask how it would have been possible for the apostles to have done so in the face of armed Roman soldiers guarding it. They were fishermen and tax collectors, afraid to be caught and arrested like their Master. One could reasonably argue that the last thing they would have done is try something like that.
Finally, none of the above objections or alternative possibilities explains the sudden change in the demeanor of the apostles. These were the men, save John, who ran away when Jesus was arrested. They went into hiding. How is it possible that they could have such a complete change of heart, becoming emboldened to go forth, proclaiming the Resurrection in the face of death and to the point of excruciating martyrdom? Only the truth that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead, can account for it all. “Given all these testimonies, Christ's Resurrection cannot be interpreted as something entirely outside the physical order, and it is unreasonable not to acknowledge it as an historical fact.”
Consider Frank Morrison, a scientific historian who once set out to write a book proving that Jesus did not rise from the dead. “The more he looked at the evidence scientifically and rationally, the more he became convinced that there was only one possible rational explanation, if he was to use the same standards for this as for other historical evidence… That Jesus did rise from the dead. So the book he had planned to write against the Resurrection became a book for it. It’s called, Who Moved the Stone?” Others have come to the same conclusion, and billions have no trouble believing it even without such careful examination.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Modifications From the Editio Typica. 1997. United States Catholic Conference, Inc. – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. New York: Doubleday.
Hayes, Rev. Edward J., Hayes, Rev. Msgr. Paul J., and Drummey, James J. 2009. Catholicism and Reason: The Creed and Apologetics, New Edition. Norwood, MA: C.R. Publications, Inc.
The Holy Bible. The Revised Standard Version. Second Catholic Edition. 2006. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Kreeft, Peter. 1991. Yes or No: Straight Answers to Tough Questions about Christianity. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Kreeft, Peter, and Tacelli, Ronald K. 1994. Handbook of Christian Apologetics. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.